6 Things You Should Know About “Perjury” Laws

This article explains the law in California

Under California Penal Code 118 pc, perjury is when you intentionally provide false information that you know to be false while you are under oath1.

Example

You are the passenger in a vehicle that has been the cause of an accident.  The driver of the vehicle flees the scene of the crime and commits a Hit and Run.

During a trial you tell the court under oath that he did not hit the vehicle in question.  Under this scenerio you may be guilty of perjury.

How Does The Prosecutor Prove Perjury?

To prove that someone is guilty of perjury, the prosecutor has to prove the following facts or elements2:

  • You took an oath to provide3 information in a truthful manner.
  • You willfully4 stated that the information was true knowing that it was in fact false.
  • The information was material5
  • When you made the statement, you intended to testify falsely while under oath6
  • When the information is in a form of a declaration, certification, or deposition, the defendant signed and delivered his/her declaration/deposition/certificate to someone else intending that it be circulated or published as true.7

How It Works

Some examples of perjury include the following:

  • You typed up a declaration per your lawyer’s request that contained information that you knew to be false even though you signed the declaration under the penalty of perjury.
  • You were a witness at a friend’s homicide trial where you knowingly and intentionally testified falsely while under oath, providing an alibi for your friend.
  • You are a notary public who authenticated a document you knew was forged under the penalty of perjury.
  • You are a defendant in an hit and run accident and during a deposition, you falsely testified under oath that when you approached the plaintiff’s car after the accident, you detected a strong smell of marijuana; you in fact knew that this was not the case.

Who Can Be Charged With Perjury?

If you were under oath to tell the truth in oral or written form but you knowingly provided false information, and in the case of information in written form (i.e. declaration), you intended the information to be circulated or publicized to others, you can be charged with perjury under penal code 118.

Example

You typed up a declaration per your lawyer’s request that falsely states that you were stopped at a red light at the time of the collision with John’s car.  In the declaration you stated that John’s car ran a red light while turning left and ended up hitting your car at the intersection.  However, at the time that you typed up your declaration, you knew that you and not John crossed the intersection when the light was red.

In fact, you knew that at the time you ran the red light, John was making a lawful turn at a green arrow light for him.  You also knew that your lawyer plans to use your declaration to authenticate facts in his motion to dismiss which will be filed with the court.  Moreover, the declaration states at the bottom of the document that you declare under the penalty of perjury that the information is true and correct.  Once you signed and mailed the declaration to your lawyer, he or she attached the declaration to a motion and filed it with the court.  On these facts, you can be charged with perjury because elements (a) through (e) above have all been met.

Legal Defenses to Perjury Charges

There are several defenses that an attorney can assert to fight a charge of perjury under penal code 118 pc.

Mistake Or Misunderstanding

Because one of the elements is that you willfully make a false statement, if you honestly but mistakenly believed your statement to be true, you attorney can argue this defense.8

Attempt To Correct False Statement

If you attempted to correct the statement after it was made, that attempt may show that you did not intend to provide false information.9

Insufficient Evidence Of Perjury

Where the only proof of the falsity of your statement is the testimony of one other witness which contradicts your statement, it is insufficient to prove perjury.10

However, distinguish this from such evidence emanating from your own statement.  In other words, if the statement is false based in whole or in part on your own testimony, the jury can conclude that such evidence is sufficient to establish perjury.   If you had attempted to dissuade that witness you could be charged with dissuading a witness or victim under california penal code 136.1

What Are The Penalties & Punishment For Perjury?

Perjury is a felony offense, so the penalties are harsh.  The judge has discretion to issue the penalty how he sees fit based on the following factors: seriousness of your perjury, your criminal record, whether your perjury harmed another person.  The judge can issue any of the following penalties:

  • Felony probation
  • Imprisonment in county jail up to 1 year
  • Imprisonment in state prison for two, three or four years.
  • If your perjury caused another individual to be convicted and executed, you could be found guilty of what’s called “aggravated perjury” which is punishable by a life sentence in prison without the possibility of parole, or a death sentence.

Next Steps If You Need Help

For general questions please leave them in the comments below and we will answer them promptly.

If you would like to discuss a pending case with an attorney contact the Aizman Law Firm at 818-351-9555 for a free confidential consultation.

Footnotes

  1. An oath is an affirmation or any other method authorized by law to affirm the truth of a statement. []
  2. Elements. Penal Code 118; CALCRIM No. 2640. []
  3. Could be in a form of testimony, declaration, deposition, or certification. []
  4. Someone commits an act willfully when he or she does it willingly or on purpose. CALCRIM No. 2640. []
  5. Information is material if it is probable that the information would influence the outcome of the proceedings, but it does not need to actually have an influence on the proceedings.  Knowledge of Materiality is not necessary. Penal Code Section 123. []
  6. Specific Intent to Testify Falsely Required.  People v. Viniegra (1982) 130 Cal.App.3d 577, 584 [181 Cal.Rptr. 848]; see also People v. Hagen (1998) 19 Cal.4th 652, 663–664 [80 Cal.Rptr.2d 24, 967 P.2d 563] [discussing intent requirement for perjury]. []
  7. Penal Code Section 124; People v. Griffıni (1998) 65 Cal.App.4th 581, 596 [76 Cal.Rptr.2d 590] [delivery requirement applies to “declaration”; discussing at length meaning of “deposition,” “declaration,” “certificate,” and “affidavit”]; Collins v. Superior Court (2001) 89 Cal.App.4th 1244, 1247 [108 Cal.Rptr.2d 123]; People v. Post (2001) 94 Cal.App.4th 467, 480–481 [114 Cal.Rptr.2d 356]. []
  8. Good Faith Belief Statement True Negates Intent. People v. Von Tiedeman (1898) 120 Cal. 128, 134 [52 P. 155] [cited with approval in People v. Hagen (1998) 19 Cal.4th 652, 663–664 [80 Cal.Rptr.2d 24, 967 P.2d 563]]; People v. Louie (1984) 158 Cal.App.3d Supp. 28, 43 [205 Cal.Rptr. 247]. []
  9. People v. Baranov (1962) 201 Cal.App.2d 52, 60–61 [19 Cal.Rptr. 866]. []
  10. There must be some other evidence that the defendant’s statement was false that corroborates the testimony of the witness. People v. Di Giacomo (1961) 193 Cal.App.2d 688, 698 [14 Cal.Rptr. 574]; Penal Code Section 118(b).  This other evidence may be direct or indirect. []

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